Cochrane area continues to grow as film industry destination

May 18, 2022

The commitment of the Alberta Government to increase investment in the film and television industry to keep pace with demand is viewed as a positive step forward by those in the industry and officials of the Town of Cochrane.

Alberta's 2022-23 budget includes an increase of 40 per cent from 2021 to the Film and Television Tax Credit program for a total of $70 million in 2022-23 and $225 million through 2024-25.

Yesterday, Doug Schweitzer, minister of Jobs, Economy and Innovation issued a challenge to the industry to outpace the funding.

"Don't see that as a limit," he said. "If you think that you can go bigger, you think that you can create more opportunities, bigger projects and bring them into Alberta, we want to see those projects, bring them to us."

"We believe, however, this will this going to be enough to allow us to grow with the industry over the next three years, but we want them to shoot higher, shoot bigger, and we want this to become a billion-dollar a year industry in Alberta."

According to Calgary Film Commissioner Luke Azevedo, the economic impact of film and television production in the Calgary area soared to a record $522 million in 2021 because of improvements to the tax credit program.

Mike Korman, Cochrane's economic development manager, says the effects of the industry are multi-fold for Cochrane. It benefits local businesses, creates jobs, and attracts people wanting to visit filming locations.

"Every million dollars spent on a production creates about 13 jobs in Alberta, so we see the opportunity for job creation as well, and it's exciting to be part of the filmmaking process, to be honest."

Natalie Germann, the town's community event administrator, says the fees are low for use of town property but the spinoff to the local businesses, especially after the pain they've experienced the last few years, has been priceless.

"Long before they get the film permits, long before they even come to talk to us here in the town, they're here in town, using the businesses, shopping while they're scoping out what they want to see, so there are collateral benefits before they even start filming here."

She says many heavily draw upon the talent pool right here in the province. She points to the scenes shot for the Joe Pickett series here last year. Ninety per cent of the production crew were Albertans.

Korman says the town isn't necessarily aggressively pursuing production companies, but it's an opportunity to take advantage of.

"We certainly have conversations with many different people in the film industry to consider Cochrane. We get a lot of requests that come without our intent. We do intend to be more proactive, but we have limited resources to be able to do that, so it would have to be a very strategic play."

Further town policy may be developed to provide clearer guidelines for when shoots do come here.

"All of the film studios that have come in have been very gracious and very understanding that we are trying to live our lives but it behooves the municipality to have good policy in place."

Schweitzer's presser came the same day as filming wrapped up for yet another shoot at the Cochrane RancheHouse.

Germann says the RancheHouse has been a go-to location for film production and is in high demand as a conference centre and wedding destination.

"It's a beautiful big building, and it can be anything, particularly with the views and the room set up."

"Anything with a Western heritage feel, I think it captures sit very well," says Korman. "Because it's a conference centre, we have the ability to provide them with the space appropriately so it doesn't disrupt the day-to-day. I think it's something that more and more people will take advantage of."

Crews have also utilized the adjacent land of the Cochrane Ranche for shoots, including the series Tin Star, which used several Cochrane locations in its production.

Last year, scenes for the first season of Joe Pickett were shot in the RancheHouse. Germann says there's a possibility some scenes for series 2 will be shot on private land in the area, but so far the production crew hasn't inquired about utilizing the RancheHouse.

With only two major productions listed as being underway in the Calgary area right now, it's speculated it was used for scenes for an upcoming American Girls special for HBO Max and Cartoon Network. The story will be based around the popular American Girl dolls with the working title "American Girl: Corinne Tan."

The tax credit was relaunched in January 2020 and offers a refundable Alberta tax credit certificate on eligible Alberta production and labour costs to corporations that produce films, television series, and other eligible screen-based productions in the province.

Since then, 62 productions have been pre-approved for a combined total of nearly $144 million in tax credit certificates. That includes 20 feature films, including one comedy, six documentaries, 11 dramas, one science fiction, and one horror production. There have been 41 television series, 22 of which are returning series.

According to Statistics Canada, every $1 million of government investment under the Film and Television Tax Credit program is expected to support about 85 Alberta jobs.

Canadian film and TV productions account for $5 billion in revenue and employ more than 117,000 people on a full-time basis.

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